Travelling with long-term treatment effects
If you have a stoma or opening on your tummy (such as a urostomy, colostomy or an ileostomy), you need to prepare before going away.
Having a stoma should not stop you from travelling, but you may need to plan your trip more carefully.
Your stoma nurse can give you advice about:
- your diet while you are abroad
- activities like swimming
- how high temperatures can affect the glue used to secure the stoma bags.
We have more information about stomas.
Make sure that you have enough stoma supplies with you. It is a good idea to split them between different items of luggage, in case any get lost. Pack essential supplies in your hand luggage, where you can reach them easily.
If you pack about twice the amount of your normal supplies, this helps you to be prepared. You may need to change your stoma bag more often than usual, or you may be away for longer than planned. It is especially important to take extra supplies if you are going somewhere hot.
Check if your accommodation has a private bathroom, with facilities to dispose of stoma bags, if you think you need this.
Some stoma suppliers deliver abroad. Check whether your supplier offers this service before you travel. Store stoma bags in a cool place, away from direct sunlight. Use bottled or boiled water or wet wipes to clean around your stoma.
If you have a colostomy or an ileostomy, it is important to be careful about what you eat the day before you travel.
Avoid spicy foods, fizzy drinks, alcohol and foods that cause wind. If you are travelling on a plane, the changes in air pressure may cause increased wind in the stoma bag. It may help to add an extra flatus filter, which helps wind to escape.
Your GP or stoma nurse can advise you on medicines you can take if you have diarrhoea. These may include anti-diarrhoea medicines and rehydration powders. You can buy these in a pharmacy or supermarket, or your GP can prescribe them.
If the diarrhoea is severe or continues for more than 48 hours, it is important to see a doctor.
Insurance and travel certificates
A travel certificate includes details of your medical condition. This means that you do not have to explain your condition to travel officials, such as airport security staff. The certificate sets out your name, address and passport number, and is signed by your doctor.
If you have an ileostomy, you can get a travel certificate in different languages by contacting IA (Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Association). Colostomy UK and the Urostomy Association can provide travel certificates in different languages. Your stoma care nurse should also be able to give you a travel certificate.
These organisations have information on travel insurance. It is important to make sure you are properly covered for your condition.
You may need to empty your bladder (pass urine or wee) or bowels (pass stools or poo) urgently or more often. These problems may be temporary or long term and can be caused by treatment or the cancer itself. They should not stop you from travelling and enjoying your holiday, but planning ahead can help.
If you have bowel or bladder problems, you need to be close to a toilet. This can affect your travel plans.
Access to toilets
When arranging any type of travel, try to book an aisle seat that is close to a toilet. This makes it easier for you during the journey. It is also a good idea to have a bag of hand luggage with some supplies inside.
Before your trip, ask if your accommodation has a private bathroom. If you are travelling somewhere unfamiliar, it is a good idea to find out more about the toilet facilities there. They may be different to what you would expect.
Some local authority websites in the UK have lists or maps of local public toilets. You can also look up what public toilets are available on the Great British Public Toilet Map.
We can send you a toilet card, which may help you get access to a toilet more quickly when you are out in public. The card explains that you have a medical condition and need urgent access to a toilet. It can be used in places such as shops and pubs.
You can use disabled toilets too. These often have a sink and give you more privacy and space if you need to change.
The National Key Scheme (NKS) offers people with a disability (including cancer) access to public disabled toilets across the UK. You can buy a Radar key for £4.75 (including postage and packaging) from Disability Rights UK. In Northern Ireland, you can buy these keys at any local council office.
Take supplies with you
Pack a bag of the things you may need when travelling. This helps you feel more confident.
You may want to include:
- wet wipes or baby wipes
- barrier cream to protect the skin from damage or infection, such as Cavilon® or Sudocrem®
- pads and extra pants
- antibacterial gel or hand wash
- a change of clothing
- sealable and disposable bags.
If you have bladder problems, you may find it helpful to take a portable urinal with you. This is a light bottle where you can empty your bladder if you cannot get to a toilet in time.
Talk to your cancer nurse or specialist for advice on travelling. You can ask them whether any medicines, such as anti-diarrhoea tablets, may be helpful for you.
Lymphoedema is a swelling caused by a build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues. It can happen when lymph nodes (glands) have been blocked, damaged or removed because of cancer or its treatment. Lymphoedema can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in your arm or leg.
Planning ahead can help you to manage any problems and enjoy your time away.
It is important to continue with your usual routine for looking after your affected limb. There are also other things you need to be careful about when travelling.
Before you go
If you have a lymphoedema specialist, talk to them about your travel plans before you go.
These tips may help you prepare for your trip:
- If you need any vaccinations before your holiday, avoid having the injections in the affected limb.
- If you are planning a more active holiday, talk to your lymphoedema specialist before you travel. They can advise you about how to organise your trip, so you do not put too much stress on the affected area.
- If you are flying a long distance and have had swelling before, your specialist may recommend wearing a compression garment. A trained specialist should measure you for a compression garment. It must fit you properly and not be too loose or too tight.
- If you have never had any swelling before, you should not wear a compression garment when flying. This may increase the risk of swelling.
- It is important to keep your affected limb moving when flying. Ask your lymphoedema specialist what exercises may help. When booking your flight, you could ask for an aisle seat. This gives you more room to move the affected limb.
- Ask your GP or lymphoedema specialist to give you some antibiotics. This is in case you develop a skin infection called cellulitis. Cellulitis can become serious if it is not treated quickly. The Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN) has guidance for healthcare professionals on using antibiotics to treat cellulitis when you have lymphoedema. They also have factsheets called ‘What is Cellulitis?’ and ‘Management of Cellulitis in Lymphoedema’. You can download an order form from their website.
- Ask your pharmacist or travel health clinic for advice on which products can best protect your skin when you are on holiday.
- If you are taking prescription drugs with you, make sure you have enough for the whole trip and any unexpected delays. Also get a letter from your doctor explaining what medicines you are taking.
- Make sure you have suitable travel insurance.
During your journey
Here are some tips to reduce the risk of getting lymphoedema or making it worse during your journey:
- Avoid sitting in the same position for the whole journey.
- If you have lymphoedema in your arm, try to move it as often as you can. Carry any shoulder bag or heavy luggage with the other arm.
- When you travel on a plane or train, move around a lot and do gentle stretching exercises. While you are sitting, circle your ankles, move your arms and legs and try some deep breathing.
- During longer car journeys, stop regularly, get out and walk around.
- Try to leave yourself enough leg room when travelling. To allow space to stretch your legs, do not put anything under the seat in front of you.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and shoes.
- If you are at risk of lymphoedema in your legs, wear fitted flight socks. Your GP, specialist nurse or pharmacist can advise you about this.
- If you have lymphoedema, you may have been advised to wear a compression garment during a long flight or journey. You can wear it for a few hours before your journey, during the journey and for a few hours afterwards.
- Use a suitcase with wheels rather than carrying a heavy bag.
- Ask a flight assistant or someone else to put your luggage in the overhead compartment.
- Drink plenty of water, but not too much caffeine and alcohol, to avoid getting dehydrated.
While you are away
There are things you can do to help with lymphoedema when you are away:
- Avoid lifting and pulling heavy bags with your affected arm. Ask someone to help.
- Take care of your skin by keeping it clean and using moisturiser every day. Avoid getting sunburn, as this can increase swelling.
- If you have lymphoedema in your leg, do not walk barefoot on a beach or around a swimming pool. This reduces the risk of cuts and possible infection in your foot.
- If you get a cut, scratch or graze on the affected limb, clean it straight away with soap and water. Put on an antiseptic cream and cover the affected area.
- Sea salt and chlorine make the skin extra dry. After swimming, shower and put moisturiser on your skin. Swimming or moving around in water is good for lymphoedema. You do not need to wear a compression garment while swimming because the water creates enough pressure.
- Avoid saunas and hot baths. Keep the affected limb as cool as possible.
- Use an insect repellent spray or cream to protect yourself from insect bites. This should contain up to 50% DEET (diethyl-m-toluamide). DEET is the main ingredient that makes insect repellent work.
- If you are bitten or stung, try not to scratch the affected area. An antihistamine cream or tablets can help ease the itching, pain and swelling.
- If you start to get signs of an infection, tell a doctor straight away. Signs include flu-like symptoms, a high temperature, redness, a rash or heat in the affected limb, or increased swelling. If you have antibiotics with you, start taking them as soon as possible.
If your spleen has been removed (splenectomy), you may be more likely to get some types of infection. The spleen contains special white blood cells that destroy bacteria and help your body fight infections when you are unwell.
Before travelling, your doctor should give you a supply of antibiotics and explain when you may need to take them. They may also suggest that you get vaccinated against pneumonia and meningitis.
You can find more information about vaccinations and travel health on the NHS website.
GOV.UK have a leaflet and patient warning card that you can carry with you when travelling.
Having a tracheostomy or laryngectomy (surgery to remove part or all of your voice box) should not stop you from travelling. However, you should check with your doctor whether it is safe to travel if you have had surgery recently.
When you breathe through a stoma (an opening in your windpipe), air goes straight into your lungs. It is not warmed or moistened by your mouth and nose. The cooler, drier air can irritate your lungs and make you produce more mucus (phlegm). This can be a problem on a plane, where the air is very dry.
Here are some tips to look after your airway when flying:
- Drink plenty of water during the flight and avoid having too much alcohol or caffeine, which can make you dehydrated.
- Keep your stoma covered with a stoma cover or filter to warm and moisten the air. This is also called a heat and moisture exchanger (HME).
- Keep your stoma cover moist with a small mist spray bottle or saline (a solution of salt in water).
You may need to pack an electrolarynx (a device to produce clearer speech) or a voice amplifier (a device to make your voice louder), and extra batteries.
Contact your airline in advance if you need to use oxygen while you are on the plane. Also check their policy on bringing medical equipment.
A nebuliser is a machine that helps you breathe in medicine as a mist through a mask or mouthpiece. This could help you clear your airway, especially in the dry air on a plane. You could ask your healthcare professional if there are options for hiring or borrowing a portable (lightweight) nebuliser.
It is helpful to remind flight attendants that, in an emergency, air should go to your stoma rather than your nose or mouth. You should also explain this to anyone travelling with you. The National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs can send you a free emergency card or wristband.
Malaria is a disease spread by mosquitos. The symptoms are similar to flu and can include:
- a high temperature of 38˚C (100.4˚F) or above
- feeling hot, shivery or sweaty
- a headache
- being sick
- muscle pains or tenderness
- a cough
- generally feeling unwell.
If your spleen has been removed, malaria can be especially severe. If possible, it is best to avoid travelling to areas where malaria is common.
Malaria is a risk in many tropical parts of the world. This includes:
- large areas of Africa and Asia
- Central and South America
- Haiti and the Dominican Republic
- parts of the Middle East
- some Pacific islands.
Talk to your doctor before you arrange to visit any of these areas. You could also speak to a private travel health service. Private travel clinics are listed and given a quality rating on the Care Quality Commission’s website.
If you decide to travel to an area at risk, try to avoid infection using the ABCD of malaria prevention:
- Awareness of risk – find out how common malaria is where you are travelling.
- Bite prevention – use insect repellent, cover your arms and legs with suitable clothing, and use mosquito nets if necessary.
- Check whether you need to take anti-malarial tablets.
- Diagnosing and treating malaria straight away is very important. If you have symptoms, get medical help immediately.
For more information about malaria, see the NHS website.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our travel and cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fit for Travel. fitfortravel.nhs.uk (accessed June 2019).
GOV.UK. Drugs licensing. Available from gov.uk/guidance/controlled-drugs-licences-fees-and-returns (accessed April 2019).
Jane Chiodini, Travel Health Specialist Nurse. www.janechiodini.co.uk (accessed April 2019).
National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC). travelhealthpro.org.uk (accessed June 2019).
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.